Variation in the diet of the Patagonian toothfish with size, depth and season around the Falkland Islands
The ontogenetic and seasonal variations in the feeding spectrum were studied in 756 specimens of the Patagonian toothfish Dissostichus eleginoides (16–159 cm total length, LT) collected on the shelf, continental slope and bathyal waters (67–1960 m, depth range) around the Falkland Islands between April 1999 and August 2002. On the shelf, small toothfish (<40 cm LT) were active predators taking mostly one relatively large prey item at a time (mainly near-bottom Patagonotothen ramsayi and Loligo gahi). Medium-size toothfish (40–60 cm LT) fed on the same prey, but the number of prey items increased to 1–2 items per fish. Large toothfish (>60 cm LT) switched their diet to other large pelagic fishes occurring near the bottom (Macruronus magellanicus and Micromesistius australis australis), again taking mostly one prey item at a time. The diet of medium-size D. eleginoides on the shelf varied seasonally depending on the abundance and migrations of the major prey species. Patagonotothen ramsayi was abundant in the diet throughout the year, whereas L. gahi appeared only from February to October during its offshore seasonal migrations to the depth range of D. eleginoides. During November to January, L. gahi migrated inshore to spawn and disappeared from the toothfish diet, being substituted by M. australis australis which dispersed on the shelf after spawning. After its ontogenetic descent to the lower part of the continental slope (500–1000 m depths), toothfish took less active (than on the shelf) fishes such as Antimora rostrata whilst also feeding on active near-bottom macrourids and skates. In their deepest habitat (>1000 m depths), toothfish became a typical opportunistic predator, feeding mainly on relatively small and inactive fishes, squids and prawn-like crustaceans Acanthephyra pelagica and Thymops birsteini. Decrease in hunting activity with depth could be related to a specific adaptation to keep neutral buoyancy by increase of lipid content in white muscles of D. eleginoides with size.